Georgia law imposes certain safety and maintenance requirements on landlords. If an injury occurs due to the landlord's failure to keep their premises in good repair, the injured party may be able to file a premises liability lawsuit to recover compensation for their injuries.
Laws Governing Landlord Liability in Georgia
Broadly speaking, under Georgia law, landlords may potentially be found liable for injuries that occur due to defective construction or failure to repair their property. Landlords generally cannot be found liable for injuries to third parties that occur due to their tenants' negligence or illegal activities.
For example, if a grocery store employee spills liquid on the floor and a customer slips, the store's landlord likely will not be liable for any resulting injuries. However, if the roof was leaking (and the landlord knew about and didn't repair the roof leak), the landlord might be found liable for a resulting slip and fall injury.
The two state laws that are often cited in Georgia landlord premises liability cases are:
- "[T]he landlord is responsible for damages arising from defective construction or for damages arising from the failure to keep the premises in repair" (see GA Code § 44-7-14).
- "The landlord must keep the premises in repair. He shall be liable for all substantial improvements placed upon the premises by his consent" (see GA Code § 44-7-13).
Georgia counties, cities, and towns may also have their own building codes or other property laws that local landlords must follow.
Is the Landlord in Possession of the Property?
Georgia landlord premises liability lawsuits may hinge on whether a specific landlord is "out of possession" or "in possession" of a property.
An "out of possession landlord" is one who has "fully parted with possession and the right of possession" according to Georgia law. If the landlord does not occupy the leased property and does not exercise much day-to-day control over the property, they are often deemed to be "out of possession."
In contrast, an "in possession" landlord might be one who occupies the property or otherwise maintains substantial ownership and control of the property even after it is rented out to a tenant. Reserving the right to periodically inspect the property does not usually constitute being "in possession" of the property.
Responsibilities of Absentee Landlords for Injuries on Their Property
An "out of possession" or "absentee" landlord is only liable for: "damages arising from defective construction or for damages arising from the failure to keep the premises in repair." This is a lower duty of care than would be required if they were in possession of the property.
Georgia courts have found that absentee landlords may be liable for defective construction if they:
- did the construction work themselves;
- directly supervised the construction work; or
- had knowledge of the defective construction.
For example, if a landlord constructed a ramp leading up to an apartment door and that ramp collapsed, the landlord could be found liable for resulting injuries (since they performed the work themselves). Similarly, if the landlord supervised the construction and was aware that the ramp was shoddily constructed and did not meet safety standards, the landlord may be found liable for injuries resulting from the ramp's collapse.
If the ramp was already in place when the landlord purchased the property, and the landlord was not aware of any defects in the ramp's construction, the landlord may not be held liable for injuries resulting from the defective construction.
Injuries can also occur when a landlord fails to repair a hazardous condition on the property. In order to be liable for "failure to repair," Georgia courts have generally found that the landlord must have had knowledge of the hazardous condition needing repair. If the landlord knew about a potentially hazardous condition and did not take steps to repair it within a reasonable amount of time, the landlord may be found liable for resulting injuries.
For example, if a stairway handrail was loose or broken, someone could be injured when they slipped on the stairs and the handrail came loose. If the landlord knew about the faulty handrail and did not fix it in a reasonable amount of time or post appropriate warnings, the landlord may be found liable for the resulting injuries.
In some cases, landlords have also been found liable for hazards they "should have" known about based on performing inspections.
Responsibilities of "In Possession" Landlords
A landlord that is "in possession" of a property is usually governed by the stricter standards that apply to property owners under GA Code § 51-3-1.
GA Code § 51-3-1 applies to owners and occupiers of land, and it states: "Where an owner or occupier of land, by express or implied invitation, induces or leads others to come upon his premises for any lawful purpose, he is liable in damages to such persons for injuries caused by his failure to exercise ordinary care in keeping the premises and approaches safe."
This standard of ordinary care is a higher standard than is applied to absentee landlords.
Role of the Lease in Premises Liability
In addition to the state and local laws governing landlords' responsibilities, commercial and residential landlord-tenant responsibilities are usually further defined by a lease.
The lease is a contract that usually specifies what a tenant can and cannot do to the property, as well as the landlord's responsibilities. The lease may spell out things like what changes or improvements the tenant may make to the property, when and how the landlord will inspect the premises, and what type of repairs the landlord is responsible for.
Note that the terms of a lease cannot release a landlord from their responsibilities and potential liabilities under Georgia law.
Were You Injured by a Landlord's Faulty Construction or Failure to Repair a Property?
If the landlord is an absentee landlord, the laws that govern their potential liability are different than the laws that apply to other property owners.
An experienced premises liability attorney will be able to review the facts of your case and help you navigate the complexities of holding a landlord responsible for injuries that occurred due to defective construction or failure to repair hazards on the landlord's property.
If you have been injured and you believe a landlord may be at fault, contact the Hadden Law Firm to learn more today.